They’re all around us. I’ll call them the slizzers, because they sliz people. Lord only knows how long they’ve been on Earth, and how many of them there are...
They’re all around us, living with us. We are hardly ever aware of their existence, because they can make themselves look like us, and do most of the time; and if they can look like us, there’s really no need for them to think like us, is there? People think and behave in so many cockeyed ways, anyhow. Whenever a slizzer fumbles a little in his impersonation of a human being, and comes up with a puzzling response, I suppose we just shrug and think. _He could use a good psychiatrist._
So ... you might be one. Or your best friend, or your wife or husband, or that nice lady next door.
They aren’t killers, or rampaging monsters; quite the contrary. They need us, something like the way we’d need maple trees if it came to the point where maple syrup was our only food. That’s why we’re in no comic-book danger of being destroyed, any more than maple trees would be, in the circumstances I just mentioned--or are, as things go. In a sense, we’re rather well-treated and helped along a bit ... the way we care for maple trees.
But, sometimes a man here and there will be careless, or ignorant, or greedy ... and a maple tree will be hurt...
Think about that the next time someone is real nice to you. He may be a slizzer ... and a careless one...
How long do we live?
Right. About sixty, seventy years.
You probably don’t think much about that, because that’s just the way things are. That’s life. And what the hell, the doctors are increasing our lifespan every day with new drugs and things, aren’t they?
But perhaps we’d live to be about a thousand, if the slizzers left us alone.
Ever stop to think how little we know about why we live? ... what it is that takes our structure of bones and coldcuts and gives it the function we call “life?”
Some mysterious life-substance or force the doctors haven’t pinned down yet, you say--and that’s as good a definition as any.
Well, we’re maple trees to the slizzers, and that life-stuff is the sap we supply them. They do it mostly when we’re feeling good--feeling really terrific. It’s easier to tap us that way, and there’s more to be had. (Maybe that’s what makes so-called manic-depressives ... they attract slizzers when they feel tip-top; the slizzers feed; and floo-o-m ... depressive.)
Like I say, think about all this next time someone treats you just ginger-peachy, and makes you feel all warm inside.
So see how long that feeling lasts ... and who is hanging around you at the time. Experiment. See if it doesn’t happen again and again with the same people, and if you don’t usually end up wondering where in hell your nice warm feeling went off to...
I found out about the slizzers when I went up to Joe Arnold’s apartment last Friday night.
Joe opened the door and let me in. He flashed me his big junior-exec’s grin and said, “Sit, Jerry. I’ll mix you a gin and. The others’ll be along in awhile and we can get the action started.”
I sat down in my usual chair. Joe had already fixed up the table ... green felt top, ashtrays, coasters, cards, chips. I said, “If Mel--that’s his name, isn’t it, the new guy?--if he starts calling wild games again when it comes his deal, I’ll walk out. I don’t like ‘em.” I looked at the drink Joe was mixing. “More gin.”
Joe crimped half a lime into the glass. “He won’t call any crazy stuff tonight. I told him that if he did, we wouldn’t invite him back. He nearly ruined the whole session, didn’t he?”
I nodded and took the drink. Joe mixes them right--just the way I like them. They make me feel good inside. “How about a little blackjack while we’re waiting?”
“Sure. They’re late, anyway.”
I got first ace, and dealt. We traded a few chips back and forth--nothing exciting--and on the ninth deal Joe got blackjack.
He shuffled, buried a trey, and gave me an ace-down, duck-up.
“Hit me,” I said contentedly.
Joe gave me another ace.
“Mama! ... hit me again.”
“Son,” I told him, “you’re in for a royal beating. Again.”
I turned up my hole ace and said, “Give me a sixth, you poor son. I can’t lose.”
“Nineteen in six,” I crowed. I counted up my bets: five dollars. “You owe me fifteen bucks!”
Then I looked up at him.
I’ll repeat myself. You know that hot flush of pure delight, of high triumph, even of mild avarice that possesses you from tingling scalp to tingling toe when you’ve pulled off a doozy? If you play cards, you’ve been there. If you don’t play cards, just think back to the last time someone complimented the pants off you, or the last time you clinched a big deal, or the last time a sweet kid you’d been hot after said, “Yes.”
That’s the feeling I mean ... the feeling I had.
And Joe Arnold was eating it.
I knew it, somehow, the moment I saw his eyes and hands. His eyes weren’t Joe Arnold’s blue eyes any longer. They were wet balls of shining black that took up half his face, and they looked hungry. His arms were straight out in front of him; his hands were splayed tensely about a foot from my face. The fingers were thinner and much longer than I could recall Joe’s being, and they just looked like antennae or electrodes or something, stretched wide-open that way and quivering, and I just knew that they were picking up and draining off into Joe’s body all the elation, the excitement, the warmth that I felt.
I looked at him and wondered why I couldn’t scream or move a muscle.
“Guess I made a boo-boo,” he said. He blinked his big black globes of eyes. “No harm done, though.”
His head had thinned down, just like his fingers, and now came to a peak on top.
He had practically no shoulders. He smiled at me, and I saw long black hair growing on the insides of his lips.
What are you? I screamed at him to myself.
Joe licked his hairy lips and folded those long inhuman hands in front of him.